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Final Preps Made for Saturday’s Whitney ’cap

Field Features Some Of The Best

from the New York Racing Association (NYRA) press office

A sloppy main track couldn’t slow down Alpha as he led at every call in winning last Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

Endorsement had his final serious work for this Saturday’s (Aug. 4) Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap Monday morning, July 30, traveling an easy five furlongs in 1:04.52 after the renovation break on the main track.

“It wasn’t nearly as fast as last week. I didn’t want him to go nearly as fast as last week,” said trainer Eoin Harty of Endorsement, who on July 23 breezed five furlongs in a bullet 58.96. “I’m not sure what the official time was, but he did it very easily and came back very well. I don’t think his fitness is in question.”

The five-year-old son of Distorted Humor is 2-1-1 from five starts this year, including a victory in the Grade 3 Texas Mile, in which he earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 102. Endorsement also was third behind Alternation in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special, in which he led until the final yards, and seventh in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap after becoming unruly in the paddock.

Fan-favorite Winter Memories won another stakes race on the Saratoga turf last Saturday in capturing the Grade 1, $600,000 Diana Stakes.

Harty said he anticipates the Casner Racing color-bearer to be forwardly placed in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race.

“I don’t know what’s in there, but I envision myself being on the lead as long as possible,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s long enough.”

It was an interesting morning for Grade 1 Whitney candidate Fort Larned, whose final breeze in company for Saturday’s race included an encounter with another horse galloping in close proximity to the rail near the half-mile pole.

Working with stablemate Cape Glory, the pair wound up on either side of the galloper, with Fort Larned going through along the inside and Cape Glory on the outside, said trainer IanWilkes.

Fort Larned was clocked in 58.69, the second-fastest of 42 works at the distance, while Cape Glory checked in at 1:00.75.

“It probably made us work a little faster, having to run through the hole, but everything is fine,” said Wilkes. “He’s a fast horse.”

Fort Larned, an E Dubai colt owned by Janis Whitman, has earned identical triple-digit Beyer speed figures of 108 in three of his last four starts, including his three-length victory over Successful Dan in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows on June 30.

“I don’t have to do the running, so I’m not nervous, but it’s always exciting when you have a horse good enough to compete in a Grade 1 at Saratoga,” saidWilkes.

Brian Hernandez will ride Saturday, Wilkes said.

The field for the Whitney Handicap was drawn on Wednesday morning, Aug. 1. Here is the field in post position order (owner, trainer and jockey listed, respectively, in parentheses);

1) Rule (WinStar Farm, Todd Pletcher, Joe Bravo), carrying 117 lbs.

2) Hunters Bay (Stronach Stables, Reade Baker, Emma Jayne Wilson), 115 lbs.

3) Caixa Eletronica (Repole Stable, Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano), 116 lbs.

4) Endorsement (Casner Racing, Eoin Harty, Joel Rosario), 115 lbs.

5) Trickmeister (IEAH Stables, Rick Dutrow Jr., Ramon Dominguez), 116 lbs.

6) Ron the Greek (Brous Stable, Bill Mott, Jose Lezcano), 120 lbs.

7) Flat Out (Preston Stables, Bill Mott, Rosie Napravnik), 116 lbs.

8) Hymn Book (Stuart S. Janney

CONTINUED FROM PG. 64- III, Shug McGaughey, John Velazquez), 118 lbs.

9) Fort Larned (Janis Whitman, Ian Wilkes, Brian Hernandez), 117 lbs.

Ready for an ‘Encore’?

Emma’s Encore signaled her readiness for Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Prioress Stakes with a 47.53 four-furlong breeze on the main track Monday morning.

“She did about as good as you can hope,” said her Hall of Fame trainer, Allen Jerkens. “She felt pretty good. I don’t think the track is lightning fast. Anyway, that’s it. We wanted her to work good.”

Owned by Brenda Mercer and Peter Berglar, Emma’s Encore enters the Prioress, a six-furlong race for 3- year-old fillies, off a 39-1 upset in Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes on July 7, her first win in a graded stakes. Jamaican Smoke, Tu Endie Wei, and Agave Kiss, respectively second, third, and fifth in the Victory Ride, are expected to face Emma’s Encore again in the Prioress.

“[Emma’s Encore will] have to do even better if she’s going to get this one,” said Jerkens. “If she runs in this one, we won’t run in the Test [Grade 1, Aug. 25]. You never know how the track is going to play, if it’s going to be playing speed. That’s why they don’t win them all, but you got to take a chance. If she could do it, it’d be some feather in her cap, a Grade 1.”

Jerkens won the Prioress, previously contested at Belmont, in 1993 with Classy Mirage and in 2003 with House Party.

Today’s card

Divine Fortune will try for a third straight victory today (Thursday) in the Grade 1, $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial, one of two steeplechases on the 11-race card.

Trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, the nine-year-old Royal Anthem gelding has competed twice this year, taking an allowance race in April and finishing second in the Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle in May. Sheppard will also saddle Iroquois third-place finisher Nation Builder in the 2 1/16- mile race, with the entry tabbed as the 9-5 favorite.

Owner Irvin Naylor will send out a four-horse entry headed by Via Galilei, who this year has won the Grade 3 David L. Ferguson Memorial Stakes at Colonial Downs and the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap at Middleburg. Also part of the entry, 2-1 on the morning line, are Tax Ruling and Decoy Daddy, fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Iroquois, and European import The Jigsaw Man, making his American debut.

Completing the field are All Together, Country Cousin, Dynaski, Left Unsaid, and Spy in the Sky, who won the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup in 2009.

Mabou, who won last year’s Turf Writers Cup, will compete over fences in the first race, a 2 1/16-mile optional claimer.

Thursday’s 11th race, a 1 1/16- mile turf event for New York-bred maiden 2-year-olds, attracted 16 entries, including four also-eligibles and a pair of main-track-only entrants. One name in particular stands out, and that is the moninker of No. 7 Notacatbutallama.

A first-time starter from the barn of Todd Pletcher, Notacatbutallama will carry the colors of Repole Stable, the leading owner at Saratoga Race Course the past two years. His name was inspired by a game of Taboo owner Mike Repole played with friends and family members the evening after his charge Stay Thirsty won the 2011 Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes.

When playing Taboo, one team member is given a card with an assigned word. He or she gives his teammates clues about the word without using the word itself or five related words that are listed on the card. With those restrictions in place, his or her teammates must guess what the assigned word is before time expires.

“The word was ‘dog,'” Repole recalled. “So the person giving the clues says, ‘Not a cat, but ahellip;’ My wife [Maria] was on the guessing team and shouts out, “LLAMA!’ If you gave me 100 animals to guess, ‘llama’ wouldn’t make anyone’s list, but it was Maria’s first guess. So that’s where Notacatbutallama got his name.”

Alpha targets the Travers

Alpha signaled his readiness for the second half of the season last Saturday, July 28, at Saratoga Race Course as he returned from a 12- week layoff to post a wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes, the traditional prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 25.

Unraced since finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby, Alpha popped out of the starting gate on top and was tracked by Neck ‘n Neck and Teeth of the Dog through fractions of 24.40, 49.30 and 1:14.03 over a sloppy, sealed main track. Challenged by his pursuers on the far turn, Alpha was asked for run by jockey Ramon Dominguez at the quarter-pole, and responded by spurting clear at the top of the lane and went on to cross the wire two lengths in front of Neck ‘n Neck.

“He was superb all the way around there,” said Dominguez. “Turning for home when I shook him up, he just took off for me. It’s an indication he’ll handle farther, and I love the way he was handling himself prior to and after the race.”

Alpha, who carries the colors of Godolphin Racing, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.47.

The victory was Alpha’s first since he opened his three-year-old campaign with triumphs in the Count Fleet and Grade 3 Withers stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack. Beaten a neck by Gemologist in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial prior to the Derby, Alpha skipped the Preakness and was being pointed to the June 9 Belmont Stakes, only to be declared from the race after spiking a fever.

“We had a little hiccup before the Belmont, spiked a temperature, and we agreed to stop,” said Godolphin representative Jimmy Bell. “We talked to [racing manager] Simon Crisford and he said, ‘You know what, don’t be pushing this. Give him the time off. Go to Saratoga and let’s see if we can do something in the Jim Dandy that will give us a reason to look forward to the Travers.’ We followed instructions well, and so did the horse.”

Sent off as the 9-5 favorite over seven other 3-year-olds, Alpha returned $5.60 for a $2 win bet and extended his record to 4-2-0 from eight starts. Aside from the Derby, his only other off-the-board performance came when he was 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.

Alpha, who has earned $860,000, will now head into the 1 1/4-mile Travers as one of the favorites. Since the Jim Dandy was first run in 1960, nine horses have completed the Jim Dandy-Travers double, including Alpha’s sire, Bernardini, who won both races in 2006. Stay Thirsty, another son of Bernardini, completed the double last year.

“This was the plan all the time, to run in this and back in the Travers,” said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “Hopefully, everything goes well for the next four weeks.”

Joining him in the “Mid-Summer Derby” likely will be runner-up Neck ‘n Neck and Liaison, who closed from seventh to finish another two lengths back in third. Following them under the wire were Teeth of the Dog, My Adonis, Atigun, Fast Falcon, and Prospective.

‘Winter’ comes home a winner

Winter Memories, a winner at Saratoga Race Course in 2010 and 2011, continued her summer tradition with a tail-waving, 1 1/2-length victory in last Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Diana Stakes for turf fillies and mares, a race her dam won in 1998.

Seeking her seventh graded stakes score and second at Saratoga, Winter Memories raced in fourth as Longines Just a Game heroine Tapitsfly ran the opening-half mile in 47.56 seconds with long shot Law of The Range applying mild pace pressure in second.

Winter Memories commenced her rally midway on the final bend, shot to the front with a furlong to travel and maintained a safe lead while drifting outward. Runner-up Dream Peace, making her first North American start since a third in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes in October, was 3 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher, 2011 Diana winner Zagora.

In her two previous 2012 starts, Winter Memories won Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Beaugay Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths on May 5 and was second, beaten 2 1/4 lengths by frontrunning Tapitsfly, in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game Stakes on June 9, Belmont Stakes Day.

“I was concerned a little bit because it was a small field,” said jockey Javier Castellano, who piloted Zagora in last year’s Diana. “I would have liked to cover her up a little bit at the beginning of the race. There wasn’t much speed in the race. That was my concern. It worked out great. It was amazing. She was able to cover up. She was able to finish so well today. Tapitsfly took advantage the last time [in the Just a Game]. There was not much speed in that race and it was a short distance. Today was my opportunity.Myfillyisa11/8-mile ora11/4-milehorse.Shelikesthe two turns. She likes to cover up and she gave me that kick.”

Winter Memories, the 8-5 favorite, paid $5.50 for a $2 win wager and completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.50 over an inner turf course labeled “good.”

By winning the Diana, Winter Memories emulated her dam, Memories of Silver, who captured the 1998 Diana as a five-year-old for Toner and the Phillips family of Darby Dan Farm. Memories of Silver also took the 1996 Lake George Stakes.

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